“Stop gap” budget passed; much more work must be done

On June 30th, the Legislature passed and Governor Rauner signed a so-called “stop gap” budget: Public Act 99-0524.  This budget covers an 18-month period from July 1, 2015 through December 31, 2016.  This is the first actual budget enacted to cover Fiscal Year 2016 which ended on the day the budget was enacted.  The good news is that this budget should enable some mental health and other human services providers to receive payment for services that they have already provided.   However, this does not include some mental health services which were in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and which providers continued to offer to persons with mental illnesses in the hope that they would eventually be reimbursed.  This further harms many behavioral health care providers whose financial condition is precarious. Click here for a link to some of the cuts to human services providers across Illinois.

Worse still is the fact that Public Act 99-0524 does not contain any new revenue.  This means that every day Illinois’ multi-billion dollar deficit is growing worse.  The budget continues the practice we have had for the past year of spending more money than we are taking in.  This reality has many causes.  However, one of the most important was allowing the state income tax rate to be cut by one third on January 1, 2015.  Because our deficit is getting worse every day, every day it becomes harder for us to solve this problem.  That is because eventually we will need to balance the budget and pay back all of the money we have borrowed.  That means that the amount of new revenue and/or cuts to vital services that will be be needed increases every day.  It is very important that mental health advocates continue to communicate to Governor Rauner, to our state senators and to our state representatives that we need more revenue and we need it as soon as possible.  

We still have no state budget: what must be done.

The 2016 regular session of the Illinois legislature ended on May 31st, 2016 with no state budget.  We have now gone eleven months without a budget.   Every day the state gets further in debt and further behind in paying human services providers.   In human terms that has caused staff layoffs and serious cut backs in community mental health services. Providers that are able to do so, have been borrowing money.  But borrowing money is not free and borrowed money must be paid  back.  In state psychiatric hospitals, there are staff shortages and shortages of every day necessities such as toilet paper, toothpaste and towels.

Enough is enough!!!

Everyone who cares about providing decent and human care and services to persons with mental illnesses should:

  1. Call Governor Rauner and urge him to sign Senate Bill 2038 which restores funding for human services.
  2. Call your State Senator and State Representative and urge them to pass a revenue bill to support funding for human services.  Yes this means a tax increase.  The state is $7 billion in debt and we cannot afford decent mental health services without a tax increase.  Click here to find the contact information for your legislators.

Mental Health Rally Today–May 19th

Persons with mental illnesses, mental health advocates and mental health service providers will come together on May 19, 2016 to protest the extremely painful cuts to mental health and other human services.  Here are the details:

Date:  May 19, 2016

Time:  10 am to 11 am

Location:  Thompson Center Plaza, Northwest Corner of Randolph and Clark Streets, Chicago.  

Every day the harm gets worse.  Now there are shortages of necessities in our state mental hospitals, including toothpaste, mouthwash, soap and toilet paper.  Please bring a roll of toilet paper to the rally.

For more information contact:  Mark Heyrman:  m-heyrman@uchicago.edu

This Rally is sponsored by the Mental Health Summit, Mental Health America of Illinois and NAMI-CHICAGO.

Budget stalemate continues–persons with mental illnesses suffer

On February 16th, 2016, Governor Bruce Rauner presented his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017 as required by the Illinois Constitution.  This budget was presented despite the fact that, eight months into Fiscal Year 2016, Illinois does not yet have a budget for the current year.  The Governor’s budget address made it clear that he was not changing his position about what was needed for a settlement.  The responses from the leaders of the Illinois House (Speaker Michael Madigan) and Senate (Senate President John Cullerton) made it clear that they are also not changing their positions.  So the impasse continues with no end in sight.

The details of the Governor’s proposed budget make it clear that funding for mental health services will continue to suffer.   Here are links to the proposed budgets for the Department of Human Services and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Important programs for people with mental illnesses are also facing reductions in the budgets for the Department of Aging, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Public Health.

In the meantime, the budget impasse is causing substantial cutbacks in mental health and other human services.  For example, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, one of the largest social service agencies in the state has been forced to layoff one third of its staff.  These layoffs are the direct result of the failure of the state to pay the numerous human services providers across the state.  Some providers have been able to borrow money to maintain services.  However, that ability declines every day.

Because outside contractors are not being paid and because of other cutbacks, persons confined in state psychiatric hospitals are complaining of shortages of food, clothing and toiletries.  They are also concerned because these facilities are saving money by turning down the heat.  Illinois is becoming a third-world country in its treatment of people with disabilities.

it is past time to resolve this impasse.  Tell the Governor and the legislative leaders that we need a budget NOW which contains adequate funding for persons with mental illnesses.  Among other things, please communicate your support for the Responsible Budget Resolution.

Attached is correspondence concerning shortages at McFarland Mental Health Center, the state-operated psychiatric hospital in Springfieldmcfalrand-full package

Here is a link to more information about the effects of the budget crisis on services in Illinois.

Here is a link to the statement of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities before the Senate Appropriations Hearing on March 16, 2016: 2016-03-15 – IARF Statement – Senate Appropriations I – DHS Proposed Budget

Here is a link to the statement of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association to the Appropriations Committee on March 16, 2016: FY17 Senate Approp I Testimony 031616–cbha

CMS Responds to Our Concerns-Rescinds Proposal to Limit Access to Psychotropic Medications

Responding to a huge outpouring of concerns and complaints from the mental health advocacy community across the country and also to pressure from Congress, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reversed its decision to limit access to psychotropic medications.  Virtually every mental health organization in Illinois and across the country communicated to CMS  and to Congress our opposition to this proposal which would have allowed Medicare Part D providers to restrict access to medications for the treatment of serious mental illnesses.  Bravo to everyone who joined in the effort to stop this bad policy from taking effect.

In the meantime, Congress is considering legislation to prohibit CMS from going forward with such a rule.  

Below are links to information about the  CMS change of heart:

Partnership applauds CMS

Obama drops Medicare Proposal

National Council press release

NAMI press release

New York Times article–March 11, 2014


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wants to significantly limit access to antidepressant and immunosupressant medication for people subscribing to Medicare Part D. Read today’s post to learn why you should be concerned, and what you can do to support the mental health community by raising our voices in Washington.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a proposed rule that would remove antidepressants and immunosupressants from the protected class status under Medicare Part D and is considering removing antipsychotics from the same status the following year. If CMS adopts its proposal, it would reduce patient access to and the availability of mental health treatment.

Since it went into effect in 2006, Medicare Part D’s protected class structure ensures patients with mental health conditions have access to all or substantially all of the most appropriate medications, protecting them from “fail-first”1 experiences or other appeals processes. In many cases, delays caused by these processes can result in inadequate treatment and potentially tragic outcomes.

We need to ensure that all mental health patients have access to all the medications that they need. It is clear that CMS’ rule will signal a step in the wrong direction and the consequences will be detrimental. According to the World Health Organization, depression is currently the leading cause of disability worldwide. By 2030, it will be the leading global burden of disease.2 In the United States alone, the total direct and indirect cost associated with depression exceeds $83 billion annually.3

Ultimately if CMS’ rule is approved, there will be severe human, economic and societal consequences for not only mental health patients, but for all Americans. We must take action now.

Here’s How You Can Take Action Today

Now, more than ever, the mental health community of patients, families, friends and others need to join together to tell CMS and the Administration how big of a mistake implementing this rule will be for all Americans. Below you’ll find several ways in which you can make your voice heard during CMS’ open comment period, ending March 7, to protect antidepressants, immunosupressants and antipsychotics within Medicare Part D. The clock is ticking!

  1. Make Your Voice Heard by writing to your Member of Congress. Use the sample email letter to inform your member of Congress that the implementation of this proposed rule is a big mistake. Be sure to share any personal experiences and how this rule will impact you or a loved one.
  2. Share your personal stories: The Care For Your Mind blog is interested in your personal stories to help share the extent of the issue and how it will impact you or a loved one. While this rule is expected to decrease patient costs for medications, members of the mental health community understand the treatment for our conditions is far from one size fits all. Below are a few questions that may help you shape and share your story:

a. What will happen if you lose access to your medications?
b. Have you had a negative experience with “fail-first” experiences?
c. How will the new rule impact you, your parents, other family members or friends?

We encourage you to submit your personal story here for publication on our website. And in the meantime, join our conversation online by contributing to this blog below. Your voice counts and the time to speak up is now!

Share this information with others: Knowledge is power. The more people know about the proposed rule’s real life consequences, the more we can make our voices heard. Share this post and relevant information with your friends and family, on your social media accounts, through email and word of mouth offline.Together, we can send a powerful message and help ensure that patients have access to the medications they need and deserve.

Here is an action link.

Here is a recent article on this topic

Fixing Illinois’ Fiscal Crisis a Top Priority for Mental Health Advocates

Several years ago, faced with a fiscal crisis, Illinois enacted a “temporary” income tax increase.  That income tax increase will expire (“sunset”) on December 31, 2014 unless the Illinois legislature passes and the Governor signs, legislation to extend it.  If the tax increase is not extended (or some other substantial source of revenue identified) Illinois will be facing a $4 to $5 billion hole in its budget.  While there is certainly some waste in the state’s budget, it is not possible to identify $4-5 billion in cuts which will not result in dramatic reductions in mental health services and all other human services as well as in state funding for schools and other vital government programs.

2014 is an election year for the Governor, most of the Illinois Senate seats and all of the seats in the Illinois House.  Mental health advocates are urged to communicate to all legislators and all legislative candidates in the upcoming primary our support for legislation extending the current state income tax rates.   

One of the problems with the Illinois income tax is that the Illinois Constitution prohibits progressive taxation of any kind.  Thus, millionaires pay the same income tax rate as those making very minimal amounts.  This makes it difficult to raise revenue or even maintain our current tax rates without harming some of our most vulnerable citizens.  The Mental Health Summit supports efforts to place on the Fall Election Ballot an amendment to the Illinois Constitution which would permit the legislature to enact a progressive tax system.  Mental health advocates are urged to communicate to all candidates their support for placing this amendment on the Fall ballot so that all voters can consider this important issue.  Resolutions which would accomplish are pending in both the Senate and the House.  Please urge all Senate candidates to support Senate Joint Resolution  Constitutional Amendment 40 (Harmon).  Please urge all House candidates to support House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 33 (Jakobsson).

Click here for information about the budget crisis.

Click here for a recent article about the crisis.